Lord Mandelson claims multibillion pound Brexit bill will be 'small change' - and urges May to pay up quickly
Labour grandee Lord Mandelson has risked the ire of Brexiteers by claiming a multibillion pound divorce payment to the EU will amount to "small change".
The New Labour heavyweight urged Theresa May to settle the bill "sooner rather than later" to get the Brexit negotiations off to a good start.
The former Cabinet minister, who served as an EU trade commissioner for over four years, also called on the Prime Minister to face down the "wild men" in her own party who are happy to see the UK fall out of the bloc without a trade deal.
But it is his comments on the Brexit bill which are likely to enrage Eurosceptics, particularly as some in Brussels are suggesting the Government could have to pay up to £50bn to cover its existing obligations to the EU.
He told an audience at the Institute for Government: "What I think the Government has got to do is bite on the bullet on the exit, bite on the bullet on the money, say 'Look, we know we're going to have to do this, we're going to get there, let's do it sooner rather than later' so that we can then retain as much time as possible, as much negotiating goodwill and good atmospherics to focus and invest in the really important negotiation in front of us, which is about our future trading relationship."
He added: "I would just settle the tab, do the money, do it as quickly as possible. It's not going to be a vast sum of money - I mean it will be a vast sum of money - but as a percentage of our public spending and GDP in this country, given that it's going to be paid over very many years, it's small change.
"And I would deal with the small change of the financial settlement in the first negotiation as quickly as you can in order to advance in as propitious as way as you can to the second stage of the negotiation, which is about the future trade arrangement."
He called on the Prime Minister to resist Eurosceptic voices on the Tory back benches and "be honest" with the public about the compromises required in the upcoming talks.
“The wild men in her party have already started to agitate against accepting any such terms which they think would amount to a bad deal. They claim that no deal would be better than a bad deal – that ‘no deal would be absolutely OK’, in the Foreign Secretary’s words," he said.
“To withstand the internal party pressures on her, the Prime Minister clearly needs broad political support. She needs weight placed on the other side of the scales. In particular, it is the moral duty of other Brexiteers in the Cabinet to weigh in and challenge those who claim that no deal would be fine.
“She has to be honest about both the compromise needed to achieve a deal and the consequences of not getting it. Such honesty would be a sign of strength and determination, not weakness."
'ON HER CASE'
As well as battling the right wing of her own party, Lord Mandelson claimed Theresa May would face a struggle to contain the influence of newspaper proprietors such as News International tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
"The press, as everyone knows, are motivated and driven by that sort of cabal of the Barclay brothers, in their splendid isolation in their castle in the Channel Islands, still trying to steer Brexit onto the rocks, by Paul Dace of the Daily Mail...Rupert Murdoch, of course, from either California or New York trying to pull the strings over Britain's future. Between the four of them changing their mood or their tenor, they're on the Prime Minister's case," the Labour peer argued.
"To date they've had her on a sort of lockdown and it's escaping free and becoming her own person and her own negotiator that the Prime Minister has got to do.
"I think she's got to realise that you only have one chance to be prime minister, it's not going to come again, she has one chance to be prime minister and she better do it well.
"And if she wants a good place in the history books she better steer these negotiations to a successful conclusion in the interest of the country as a whole."